According to a new study, one reason why we haven’t been able to make any contact with an alien civilization so far may be that they all perished as a result of climate change, Live Science reports.
The research, led by astrophysicist Adam Frank from the University of Rochester in New York, ran computer simulations to see what would happen to a hypothetical alien civilization that is technologically evolved in the event that their planet would start running out of resources and become uninhabitable.
In a recent news release, the University of Rochester explains that the researchers were trying to figure out if sustainability was even possible out there in the universe and to establish what the chances are that any sustainable alien civilizations actually exist.
The question arose out of our own preoccupation of developing a sustainable version of human society that can withstand the current threats of climate change, deforestation, and loss of biodiversity, notes the university.
In the video below, Frank, who is a professor of physics and astronomy at the university, says that the study was meant to provide a “10,000-light-year” view of how climate change would impact our own planet.
“Seeing climate change in this cosmic context may give us better insight into what’s happening to us now and how to deal with it.”
The scientists largely based their mathematical model on case studies of lost civilizations, one such example being the fall of Easter Island.
“Easter Island presents a particularly useful example for our own purposes since it is often taken as a lesson for global sustainability,” the authors wrote in their study, published last month in the journal Astrobiology.
“Many studies indicate that Easter Island’s inhabitants depleted their resources, leading to starvation and termination of the island’s civilization,” the team shows in their paper.
The results of the simulation were gloomy, to say the least, particularly since the team points out that we might end up sharing the same grim fate.
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According to the results, the equations pointed to four possible scenarios, three of which spelled doom for the hypothetical alien civilization, ending in apocalypse.
‘Die-off,’ Collapse, And Sustainability
In one of these apocalyptic scenarios, called the “die-off” trajectory, the alien population experiences a tremendous bloom over a short period of time and keeps depleting the planet’s resources.
As a result, the living conditions on the planet take a turn for the worse as temperature spikes up and greenhouse gases increase, rendering the space rock inhospitable. After reaching its peak numbers, the alien population experiences a major drop, with only a fraction managing to survive on the changed planet.
“Imagine if seven out of 10 people you knew died quickly,” Frank tried to explain. “It’s not clear a complex technological civilization could survive that kind of change.”
Two other scenarios also see the alien population collapse but under different circumstances. In one trajectory, the inhabitants of the alien planet carry on as usual and exhaust the planetary resources, which leads to a complete collapse of the civilization and possibly the end of the entire species.
In the second collapse trajectory, the alien civilization realizes the effects of its own actions on the climate of the planet and starts taking steps to switch to low-impact resources, but the planet is too far gone and the saving measures come too late to make a difference.
As Frank puts it, this scenario is the “most frightening.”
“Even if you did the right thing, if you waited too long, you could still have your population collapse,” says the astrophysicist.
The only scenario in which the alien civilization survives the threat of climate change and manages to become sustainable involves leaving behind high-impact resources, such as oil, and making the switch to low-impact resources, such as solar energy, shows the simulation.
If there’s one main conclusion to be drawn from this study, Frank sums it up.
“Across cosmic space and time, you’re going to have winners — who managed to see what was going on and figure out a path through it — and losers, who just couldn’t get their act together and their civilization fell by the wayside. The question is, which category do we want to be in?”